Grantham schoolboy enjoys a virtual education from other side of the Atlantic
A Grantham schoolboy is enjoying an education quite different to other children of his age.
Ben Pitcher is being educated through a virtual school based in the United States.
Ben, 11, joined International Connections Academy at the beginning of this academic year. His parents, James and Isabelle Pitcher, believe this kind of education suits Ben’s personality and the family’s lifestyle. They enjoy frequent travelling, as well as activities like painting classes and tennis.
James told the Journal: “The style of education is really suiting Ben and he is excelling in his studies. He enjoys the flexibility of the classes as it allows him to pursue other interests and complete work at a time that suits him. The school offers a full range of studies and Ben is studying all the subjects you would expect as well as subjects like digital art and Mandarin.
“The courses take the form of lessons, which you download and complete in you own time. The lessons are full of video clips and interactive media to make the learning more enjoyable.
“As his dad, I’ve taken on the role of Ben’s learning coach. I’m on hand to answer questions, bounce his ideas off of and make hot chocolates when needed. If Ben has questions that I can’t answer, tutors are always available and we have been astonished by the amount of times teachers have been available on a one-to-one basis for help.
“Each subject has a live lesson once a week where a group of students meet up online with a teacher and go through a topic with interactive screens and plenty of chances for students to contribute to the lesson.”
Ben’s parents feel that virtual learning gives him the best of both worlds - he receive a full education while still being able to organise his own time to experience other activities of his choosing.
“Ben takes responsibility in his time management, often getting up early in the morning to complete a lesson so that he is free to attend a forest conservation project or extra sports training later in the day,” said James. “If he finds a piece of work difficult or frustrating he has the option to get up and do something else for a while before returning to the work with a clearer head.
“Obviously, people wonder about Ben’s socialisation as a virtual school conjures images of a child locked away at home never leaving the house, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Because of the flexibility of the program, Ben attends exciting activities every day of the week, from tennis training to hands-on science experiments, art classes, drama groups and youth clubs. At these activities he is mixing with all ages from young children to adults, working alongside them and learning how to interact with society as opposed to just a classroom.”
Ben’s parents say the academy provides ways to mix and mingle with friends in the digital world. Ben is making friends from all over the globe as he meets with classmates online in the school’s live lessons.
James added: “Ben is a very active learner. One of the reasons he struggled in a traditional style school was that he always wants to be involved in everything that was going on. Ben was the child who would have his hand up through a whole lesson bursting to ask a question and then once it was answered he would have another. In a virtual school Ben is free to stop and ask questions whenever he wants. Although he needs to get the work in front of him completed, if a question on Egypt leads to a discussion about the importance of burial rites in other civilisations we can pull that thread and follow his interest before coming back to the task at hand. In this way we aren’t treating his natural curiosity and desire to learn as a problem, but as an opportunity and it’s amazing how many things from those discussions stick in his mind.
“I also think Ben really benefits from being in a one-to-one environment for much of his academic studies. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when there is a focus on work and no distractions around you. We can plough through an enormous amount of learning in a relatively short time, freeing Ben to socialise in social environments.
“I think there is also a very real value in allowing Ben to manage his own time and take responsibility for getting work submitted. While there is tremendous freedom in International Connections Academy to set your own timetable, there are deadlines to be met and Ben has had to learn how to prioritise his time to meet them. This, along with conference calls, self motivated research and collaborating across time zones, very much reflects the way the world of work is developing. I think we are preparing Ben for a work life in the digital age.”
Ben is working towards an American High School Diploma. The academy also offers other American qualifications, but if Ben wants to continue his studies at a college in the UK, it would be no different than an American student moving to the UK from the USA.
James said: “I understand that International Connections Academy also offers courses that run all the way to university and have had a great deal of success with students progressing to prestigious institutions around the world. All that is a long way off though, and what is important to us right now is that Ben is happy, and he is learning and developing his character. We are very happy with the role International Connections Academy is playing in his life and couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Amanda Kirkpatrick, middle school teacher at the International Connections Academy, said Ben isable to explore and master required core subjects, such as languages, mathematics, science and social studies.
Amanda said: “Students learn best when lessons match their interests and abilities. Studies have shown that in conventional classrooms many instructional tasks are not matched to students’ skill levels. The mission of Connections Academy is to help each student maximise his or her potential and meet the highest performance standards through a uniquely individualised learning program. At International Connections Academy, each student receives individualised instruction, including lessons tailored to their academic strengths and weaknesses.
“We may not be physically face-to-face, but LiveLesson technology provides virtual face-to-face time for students and teachers. We can also provide more individualised, personal support to students, working one-on-one with students for instruction, reviewing assignments/assessments, and answering general questions.Students also have opportunities to interact with each other through the dozens of clubs and activities we offer, such as art club, gaming and technology, and more.Teachers are available for students via phone or email. Within Connections Academy’s highly individualised learning system, teachers know their students—whether they need extra help or a new challenge.”
For more information on the academy go to www.internationalconnectionsacademy.com
More by this authorGraham Newton